Archive for May, 2012

“This little bird so much resembles the young of that called, I know not why, the Blue-eyed Yellow Warbler, that I was at first inclined to think it the same; but, recollecting that the latter acquires the full colouring of its plumage, in both sexes, before the return of spring, and finding some material differences in their habits, I have not hesitated in presenting it to you, kind reader, not only as a new species, but as one extremely rare in the United States.

I shot two of these birds in May 1821, near the town of Jackson, in the state of Louisiana.  They were sitting amongst the stalks of the plant, on which they are represented . . . I shot both the parents, and took the young under my care, but they would not receive any food, and died towards the end of the second day after their removal.  I have never seen another of these birds since.

. . . The plant is known by the name of the Wild Spanish Coffee.  It grows very abundantly in almost every field in the Uplands of Lower Louisiana.  The smell of its flowers, as well as of its leaves, is extremely disagreeable, if not nauseous.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 180 [excerpted].


Commencement crowd!

   Posted by: rring    in Audubon, Events, exhibitions, New acquisition, News

Thanks mostly to the enthusiastic comments made by President Jones during Commencement weekend, we had over 100 visitors to the Watkinson on Saturday to see the recently acquired “Second Folio” of Shakespeare.  We don’t often see people literally lining up to see our books, but it is entirely gratifying.

Folks also were impressed by our marvelous copy of John James Audubon’s Birds of America, which is on permanent display (we turn the page to show a new bird every week).

Other items which I brought out for the day included two engravings on copper sheets which were used to illustrate Prideaux John Selby’s Illustrations of British Ornithology (published 1834-39), which were placed alongside the book itself.  Selby was a contemporary of Audubon, and the two ornithologists compared notes and shared insights when the latter was at work in England.

Parents and students appreciated the current exhibition, Drawing Birds, which features sketches done by students last semester for Devin Dougherty’s Studio Arts class (Drawing I), especially as they noticed the work of friends and classmates.

“The nest of this active little bird is formed of singular materials, being composed externally of dried mosses and the green blossoms of Hickories and Chestnut-trees, while the interior is prettily lined with fine fibrous roots, the whole apparently rather small for the size of the occupants . . .

It is an inhabitant of the interior of the forests, and is seldom found on the borders of roads or in the fields. In spring they m0ve in pairs . . . [and] are ever amongst the decayed branches of trees or other plants, such as are accidentally broken off by the wind, and are there seen searching for insects or caterpillars.

. . . This species reaches the Central Atlantic Districts in the middle of May, and breeds there, as well as farther northward.  I have found them more numerous in the Jerseys than in any other portion of the Union.  In Kentucky and Ohio I have seen only a few of them; nor have I ever found their nests in either of these states.

The plant on which you see a pair of Worm-eating Warblers is well known throughout the United States by the name of Poke-berry.  It grows in every situation, from the tops of the most arid mountain-ridges to the lowest and richest valleys; and it is almost impossible to follow a fence for a hundred yards without seeing some of it.  Its berries are food for numerous species of our birds, and produce a beautiful dark crimson juice, which is used instead of red ink by some of the country people, although it does not retain its original colour for many days.  This plant grows to a height of four or six feet, and is eaten when it first shoots from the ground as a substitute for asparagus, quantities of it being not infrequently exposed in the markets.  The juice of the berries is taken in cases of ague and continued fever, but requires to be used with judgment, as too large a dose proves deleterious.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 177-178 [excerpted].

I saw the following description of a book for sale in the trade and discovered to my relief that we had a copy!
Francis Douce (1757-1834) was the youngest son of a lawyer, who (much to his father’s dismay) was only interested in literary and antiquarian research, not a profession in law.  According to the DNB, “He succeeded to a smaller share of his father’s property than he had anticipated, and attributed his disappointment to the ‘misrepresentation’ of his elder brother, ‘who used to say it was no use to leave me money, for I should waste it on books.'”
Illustrations of Shakespeare, and of ancient manners: With dissertations of the clowns and fools of Shakspeare; on the collection of popular tales entitled Gesta romanorum; and on the English morris dance. London, 1807.
This is Douce’s commentary on obscure points of Shakespeare’s plays, examining possible source materials and often focusing on the anachronisms present in the plots and settings. Includes the legalities of different types of marriage contracts, the nature of period music (offering as examples tunes for the “Scotish brawl” and “Canary”), and the fine details of such activities as quail fighting, crow keeping, wassail drinking, wearing chopines, furnishing funeral tables, etc., as well as longer researches on the subjects described in the title. The work was generally well-received at the time of its publication, and a later 19th-century critic praised Douce for his “delicate and sympathetic apprehension of the peculiar beauties of Shakespeare,” but Jeffrey rather famously severely critiqued the work in the Edinburgh Review, and Stapfer described it as “bristling with erudition but devoid of talent, and very foolish and irreverent towards Shakespeare.”
Two examples of his topics follow:
O beat away the busy meddling fiend / That lays strong siege unto this wretch’s soul.
[King Henry VI, part 2, Act III, scene 3]
“It was the belief of our pious ancestors, that when a man was on his death-bed the devil or his agents attended in the hope of getting possession of the soul, if it should happen that the party died without receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist, or without confessing his sins.  Accordingly in the ancient representations of this subject, and more particularly in those which occur in such printed services of the church as contain the vigils or office of the dead, these busy, meddling fiends appear, and with great anxiety besiege the dying man; but on the approach of the priest and his attendants, they betray symptoms of horrible despair at their impending discomfiture.  In an ancient manuscript book of devotions, written in the reign of Henry the Sixth, there is a prayer addressed to Saint George, with the following very singular passage: ‘Judge for me whan the moste hedyous and damnable dragons of helle shall be redy to take my poore soule and engloute it in to theyr infernall belyes.'”
In his section “On the clowns and fools of Shakespeare,” Douce creates a classification of nine (9) types, including:
I. The general domestic fool, often, but as it should seem improperly, termed a clown.  He was 1. a mere natural, or idiot. 2. Silly by nature, yet cunning and sarcastical. 3. Artificial
II. The clown, who was 1. a mere country booby. 2. A witty rustic. 3. Any servant of a shrewd and witty disposition.
III. The female fool, who was generally an idiot.
IV. The city or corporation fool, whose office was to assist at public entertainments and pageants.
V. Tavern fools. These seem to have been retained to amuse the customers.
“Plate VI: Fig. 1 and 3 are from A booke of Christian prayers, &c., 1590, being figures belonging to a dance of Death.  Fig. 2, is from the frontispiece to Heywood’s comedy of The fair maid of the exchange.  Similar figures of the costume of fools in the time of James I., or Charles I., may be seen in the Life of Will Summers, compiled long after his time.  Fig. 4 and 5 are from La grant danse Macabre, printed at Troyes without a date, but about the year 1500, in folio, a book of uncommon rarity and curiosity.”

. . . A few breed in Kentucky and the State of Ohio, but the Middle Districts are their principal places of resort during summer, although they extend their migrations to a high latitude.

. . . So fond of each other’s company are they, that a party of them passing on the wing will alter its course at the calling of a single one perched on a tree.  This call is uttered with much emphasis . . . no sooner has the flock, previously on wing, alighted, than the whole party plume themselves, and then perform a little sweet concert.  So much does the song of our Goldfinch resemble that of the European species, that whilst in France and England, I have frequently thought, that they were the notes of our own bird which I heard.

. . . In ascending along the shores of the Mohawk river, in the month of August, I have met more of these pretty birds in the course of a day’s walk than anywhere else . . . for a considerable space along the Gennessee river, the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and even Lake Superior, I have always seen many of them in the latter part of summer.

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 172-174 [excerpted].

” . . . The woody sides of the sea are the places to which this species usually resorts.  It passes from the south early in March, and continues its route through Florida, Georgia, and all the other States verging on the Atlantic, beginning to rest and to breed in North Carolina, and extending its travels to the province of Maine.

. . . the most remarkable distinction between this species and the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is, that the former, instead of feeding principally on insects and fruits, procures fresh-water shellfish and aquatic larvae for its sustenance.

. . . It being so scarce a species in Louisiana, I have honoured it by placing a pair on a branch of Magnolia in bloom, although the birds represented were not shot on one of these trees, but in a swamp near some, where the birds were in pursuit of such flies as you see figured, probably to amuse themselves.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 170-171 [excerpted].

We are exceedingly pleased to announce our acquisition of the so-called “Second Folio” of Shakespeare, which came from a Rhode Island family in whose possession it has been since the Civil War.

There were four (4) folio editions of the collected plays of Shakespeare produced in the seventeenth century.  The celebrated “First Folio” (1623) was the first edition.  Eighteen of the plays had never been printed before, including Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest.

The “Second Folio” was printed when the First sold out, and is principally famous for the dedicatory poem to Shakespeare written in 1630 by John Milton—which was his very first publication of English verse (he was 24).  There are over 170 copies recorded in American institutions, 57 of which are in the Folger Shakespeare Library (Washington, DC).  The “Third” (1664) and “Fourth” (1689) folios contained seven extra plays, of which only Pericles is now considered to be Shakespeare’s.

The First Folio is one of the most studied books in English literature, and so it (and its successors) are excellent tools to use to teach students about print culture in early modern England.  Purchasing a First Folio is generally not possible for institutions like Trinity, since the going rate for a complete copy in good condition is roughly $5 million.  However, the latter Folios are sometimes within reach, especially (as with this copy) if it lacks a few key leaves, such as the title-page and the portrait of Shakespeare.  These, however, can be supplied in facsimile.  Milton’s dedicatory poem and all of the plays are present.

This particular copy is fascinating because of what generations of owners have done with (and to) it.  At least two former owners were women–one of whom (“Mary Wright”) dated her signature “1716”.  There are other names written in the book, as well as plenty of manuscript marginalia (including a transcription of Shakespeare’s will, lists of actors, and comments on the texts).  At the end, there are also clippings from newspapers and sections of later editions of certain plays (Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, and Richard III).

As one faculty member put it in a letter supporting the purchase, “We could all quite easily use it as a pedagogic tool, a text to share with students of all levels as we teach our various courses on early modern literature and culture, Shakespeare, and the history of the book. Undergraduates understand full well the cultural centrality of Shakespeare; they are often surprised and interested to find out how the significance of Shakespeare’s plays has been imagined and reimagined not only on the stage but also on the page.  This specific copy of Shakespeare’s Second Folio seems a particularly rich and interesting acquisition in this regard.  As a material artifact filled with marginal comments by readers, it bears witness not only to the monumentalizing ambitions of Shakespeare’s seventeenth-century publishers but also to the shifting ways in which Shakespeare’s work has been read and interpreted over time.”

Many, many thanks to members of the Watkinson Board of Trustees and the administration of Trinity College for their generous support, without which this acquisition would not have been possible!